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Technology

Japan lines up Toshiba and NEC for quantum research group

Tokyo pools corporate talent to develop security strategy and new products

A dilution refrigerator for cooling a quantum computer at the Riken research institute in Wako, Japan. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor, Toshiba, NEC and other big-name Japanese companies will partner with the government on a quantum research group forming as soon as this month to promote the development of a technology with major security implications.

About 50 businesses are expected to join the public-private organization, including Fujitsu and Hitachi. The group plans to create a corporate entity for the initiative next year, and a fund for investment in the field has been proposed as well.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga discussed quantum computing with U.S. President Joe Biden during their summit last month. "Quantum information sciences" was cited in their joint statement after the meeting as an area of cooperation to "enhance our countries' competitiveness."

Quantum computing, used for high-speed calculations and data processing, can enable dramatic increases in processing power. The technology is expected to play a major role in national security, through areas such as encryption, as well as intelligence gathering and analysis.

Though the U.S. and China have been the main trailblazers, thanks to massive state-driven investment, Japan has a strong presence in quantum communications and cryptography. Toshiba leads the world in related patents, and NEC and Nippon Telegraph & Telephone -- which is also expected to join the group -- rank high on the list as well.

This area serves as a keystone of the "quantum internet" concept, which uses quantum encryption to prevent transmissions from being intercepted.

But Japan remains lacking when it comes to actual quantum infrastructure. China already has built a 2,000-km quantum communication network between Beijing and Shanghai.

The research group aims to gather Japan's quantum expertise in one place to put the technology to practical use. Teaming with peers will give companies opportunities to apply it to new products and services.

For the government, pooling the country's quantum know-how will help incorporate the technology into national strategy. The program also aims to expand the pool of expert talent in the field.

Businesses have high hopes for the public-private initiative. Hitachi sees investment in quantum technology research as necessary over the long term.

"It's difficult for a single company to do comprehensive work in the field on its own," said Shintaro Sato, head of quantum computing development at Fujitsu. "We want broad partnerships in industry, government and academia, without limiting them to particular points."

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